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DETROIT — J.A. Happ stood in the corner of the Toronto Blue Jays’ clubhouse Thursday afternoon, surrounded by reporters and TV cameras.
The herd of bright lights and postgame attention came after the St. Bede graduate had allowed three earned runs in 6 1/3 innings pitched to pick up the win Thursday against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park in Detroit.
A month ago, the media attention seemed far-fetched for Happ but, after a month of strong starts, scenes like Thursday are once again becoming familiar for the Peru native.
“Today, I probably didn’t feel as good as I did the last few games, but I think I said this when I first came back, it’s about staying healthy and getting reps out there,” Happ told reporters after he beat 2011 Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander. “I feel like I have my delivery down and I’m comfortable with that, so I think that helps a lot instead of having to trying to find myself. That’s big for me, just to repeat.”
Thursday’s victory was Happ’s fifth win of the season and allowed the Blue Jays to complete a three-game sweep of the American League Central-leading Tigers.
It was also yet another highlight to Happ’s resurgence.
In a frustrating start to his season, the 31-year-old injured his back in spring training and missed the first 13 games of the regular season.
Upon his return April 14, Happ was placed in the bullpen — where he made just three appearances in three weeks — until the Blue Jays needed a starter on May 5.
“It was really frustrating from the sense of working so hard in the offseason to get ready and feeling great coming in to having the injury and then having to wait for my turn, so to speak, to get a shot in the rotation,” Happ said. “But I really feel good with where I am at now.”
Since his return to the starting rotation, the Northwestern alumnus has settled in as he is 5-2 with a 4.12 ERA this season following Thursday’s win.
“There’s always pressure,” Happ said of his first start of the season and trying to stay in Toronto’s rotation. “There’s pressure from start to start, but you just try to go out there and focus. I was in a situation early in my career (in Philadelphia) where it felt like every start was do or die. I try not to feel that way, but at times it may seem like that’s the case.”
Happ — who struck out two and walked two Thursday to win for the fourth time in his last five starts — helped the Blue Jays remain in first place in the AL East. At 37-24, Toronto currently has the second best record in the AL.
“These guys are impressive,” Happ said. “For me, I’m just trying to do the same thing and keep us in there. We’re putting great at-bats together, and things have been going our way.”
Happ and the Blue Jays hope to remain in front in the AL East for the rest of the season, including when Toronto comes to Chicago Aug. 15-17 to play the White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field.
By that time and beyond, Happ hopes to be exactly where he is currently at — pitching well in Toronto’s starting rotation.
“Trying to stay right where we’re at is the goal,” said Happ, who hasn’t been to the postseason since 2009. “I just want to try to stay healthy and remain a part of this. I just want to go out there every five days and do my job and, hopefully, we’ll be there in the end.”
Jared Bell can be reached at 220-6938, or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsJared.